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A Guide to Vintage Patterns Sewing for Beginners

How to sew with vintage patterns on Baudekin Studio

by Elena Tran

July 9, 2020

So you purchased your very first vintage pattern and you are excited to get started and make that unique piece that is going to wow your friends and colleagues. At this point, you should take a deep breath and stop for a moment. I put together a few important tips on how to start vintage patterns sewing so you can avoid the mistakes that I made.

  • First, check if you have all the pieces included in the package and if they are in good condition. You are also looking for sewing instructions, and the original Vogue label (if it’s was included with the pattern). You probably received the pattern that was already cut by another owner. It’s rare to see the original uncut patterns.
Vintage pattern out of the package
  • Once you verified that all the pieces are present, iron all pattern pieces on very low setting. I use setting 1 or 2 on my iron. Again, be gentle with your patterns. Don’t press hard on the paper and don’t rest your iron on it. The goal is to remove the deep creases from the paper as much as you can.

  • Don’t do alterations on the original pattern. Before you begin doing alterations, you should make copies of all pieces on Pellon 830 pattern tracing material or something similar. I like it because the material is durable, flexible, it’s great for pinning to fabric and you can even use it to make a mockup. I have tried exam paper for tracing my patterns, but the paper is too thin and it tears easily. Honestly, why reinvent the wheel? (Word of advice, wait for sale at your local fabric store and buy at least 10 meters when the price is right.)

To begin tracing your pattern, lay your pattern pieces on the cutting table and then place the tracing material over it. Align the pieces well and pin securely so the pattern doesn’t shift. Don’t rush at this point. Make sure that the paper lies smooth and there are no bubbles. The more accurately you trace the pattern, the better. I use a regular HB pencil for tracing. Some people prefer multicolour pens or markers. Don’t go overboard. If you can see it, it works.

Copying vintage patterns
Make sure you trace all the markings, including notches, seam allowances, arrows for pleats, placement lines, pocket markings, special notes, etc. Let it be a very detailed copy of the pattern. You will use this as a working copy for alterations, pinning and cutting, and as a guide during sewing. I would even make special notes for yourself about challenging construction parts to avoid mistakes in the future.

Copy of vintage pattern

  • Once you make copies of all pieces, store the original pattern away. I usually purchase extra-large Ziploc storage bags and I use one bag per pattern. If you want to re-sell your vintage pattern, you need to make sure that it’s in excellent condition for the next person.
There is a big market for vintage patterns sewing. To see the approximate value of your pattern, you can just go to Etsy on your browser and search by your designer. It will give you a good idea if your pattern will potentially sell well. The older the pattern, the more expensive it is. 50s and 60s designer patterns are very rare and they are usually the most valuable.
Vintage patterns on the web
  • Next step is making alterations on the copy of the pattern. The most important pattern alterations include bust, waist, hips and length of the garment. You can adjust neckline and sleeves on the mockup.
  • Finally, you can do the mockup of your vintage garment or the toile. Many people skip this step, but it’s a big mistake. Many vintage patterns have only an artist’s drawing on the cover or models with super tiny waists, so there is no way for you to know how the final garment will look like on you. Use old sheets or cheap fabric to make the mockup. I usually use muslin cotton. (Again, if you find it on sale, stock up!)Try to match the weight of the fabric to the fabric that you are planning to use for the actual garment. This will give you a better idea of what the final piece is going to look like. Check the neckline and the sleeves. Look for any puckers that don’t belong or tightness that feels uncomfortable.

On the final note, I wanted to mention that vintage patterns sewing is very rewarding. These garments are one-of-a-kind special pieces and they deserve fabric that will stand out as well. Choose unique fabric types, colours and patterns to make your couture creation stand out.

Vintage patterns are precious and must be preserved. They are pieces of rich fashion history and we are a few lucky ones to own them. I hope you will enjoy and share your vintage sewing journey with me.

Let's start a new vintage sewing project together

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